Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Butor has called Niagara a novel, but its classification as such has been questioned. It may be called a long fiction, a prose poem, a meditation, a radio drama, or even a play about a radio broadcast. It may also be called a “postnovel.” Nevertheless, it is a novel, an important example of the French New Novel that rejected the traditional novelistic formula of a history (a continuous action or series of actions carried out by a principal character) or a depiction of a character’s growth, sensation, and ideas. Butor’s experimentation with form and content in this novel reflects his lifelong experimentation with narrative, which began with his first novel, Passage de Milan (1954), and continued with Mobile: Etude pour une representation des Etats-Unis (1962; Mobile: Study for a Representation of the United States, 1963) and his even more “open” works, Resean aerien: Texte radiophonique (1962), a radio play, and Votre Faust: Fantaisie variable genre Opera (1962), an operatic fantasy in which the audience chooses its directions and outcomes.

Butor’s work, both before and after Niagara, has included poetry, novels and postnovels, and volumes of essays. Heralded early in his career by Jean-Paul Sartre, Butor is known outside France principally for his early New Novels. The scope of his work is such that he has become not only a premier novelist but also a more universal man of letters. He remains an active force in intellectual life, both in France and well beyond his native country.